Cambridge Pringle Is pleased to be a member of the Almshouse Association (Meb No M1962)
Whilst many of us may be aware of the traditional and fine almshouse buildings dotted all over the United Kingdom, few perhaps realise how vibrant and relevant the almshouse movement is today and how it continues to provide a strong sense of community; offering safety and security, and making it possible for those in need to continue to live independently, in a locality of their choice, often near to families.
What is an almshouse?
The recognised definition of an almshouse is:
An almshouse is a unit of residential accommodation (usually a house or flat) which belongs to a charity, is provided exclusively to meet the charity’s purposes (for example, the relief of financial need or infirmity) and is occupied or is available for occupation under a licence by a qualified beneficiary.
An almshouse charity is typically a charity which is established for purposes which are to be furthered by the provision of one or more almshouses.
An almshouse charity is usually a charity for the relief of financial hardship by the provision of housing and associated services or benefits which must (or is authorised to) provide its primary benefit by the grant of a licence to occupy the accommodation that it owns to its beneficiaries.
In addition, an almshouse charity is likely to have one or more of the following features:
The origin of the charity is a private gift for the relief of poverty;
The beneficiaries are required to pay a weekly maintenance contribution that must not be set at a level that would cause hardship;
The nature of the accommodation is such that the licence requires that beneficiaries must show particular consideration for the needs of other residents;
A significant proportion of the accommodation is permanent endowment;
The beneficial class or the geographical area from which it can be drawn is restricted.
Note: Almshouses do not necessarily have the word “almshouse” in their name; they may be referred to by another title, such as ‘College’, ‘Hospital’ or ‘Homes’. This is due to the historical nature of some almshouses and the contemporary usage of these terms at the time the almshouse was established.
At a time when there is a severe shortage of affordable rental accommodation, the role of almshouse charities is now more vital than ever. In some rural areas, almshouses are the only provider of accommodation for those in need.
Almshouses are managed by volunteers (Trustees), usually people who want to become involved in their local almshouses in order to preserve good quality accommodation for people in need in their area. There is a certain amount of regulation and administration which has to be handled and The Association assists and advises on this. Trustees’ support ensures the residents retain their dignity, freedom and independence by allowing them to live their lives as they see fit within a safe and secure environment.
Almshouse charities today have to invest heavily in the modernisation and updating of almshouse dwellings to provide 21st century living, either in building new, contemporary, purpose built flats and bungalows or by refurbishing their (often listed) buildings. Standards of accommodation are continually rising, with technology playing an increasing part in making life easier. Disabled access, internet connection, electronic doors and sophisticated alarms all contribute towards enabling residents to remain independent in their homes for as long as possible. Conversion of bed-sits to single or double bedroom accommodation; wet rooms and the provision of buggy stores are amongst the many improvements being provided.
Running a charity and navigating all the legislation governing the provision of homes and their upkeep, raising funds and managing finances can be difficult, cumbersome and time-consuming. Upgrading listed buildings is complex and expensive, requiring planning and conservation consent. Striking the right balance between offering the highest standards whilst preserving the historic fabric demands patience and close liaison with the authorities.
Some almshouse charities employ a Warden or Scheme Manager to provide support to the residents and assist in the management of the charity. A small number of larger almshouse charities offer extra care and residential care. Generally speaking, anyone wishing to apply for accommodation at an almshouse charity needs to be able to live independently.
The Almshouse Association provides member charities with the support and advice to help trustees manage their almshouses, guidance on how to run a charity and how to assist their residents.